[N.B. – For a more in-depth treatment of Dr Wallace’s views on this subject, see “The Righteousness of God and N.T. Wright.”]

N. T. Wright has written another important book, this time on justification in Paul. The book, Justification: Gods Plan and Paul’s Vision, was co-published earlier this year by SPCK in London and InterVarsity Press in Downers Grove, Illinois. It is both a response to John Piper’s The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007)—which itself was a response to Wright’s treatment on justification that he had articulated over the years—and an epistle-by-epistle definition of his view of the matter. Wright is one of the leading NT scholars to have embraced the New Perspective on Paul, a view that got its major impetus from E. P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).

I picked up Wright’s latest offering just before I left for Germany last May, the month it came out. I originally wanted to write a review of the whole book, but since I am, once again, teaching Romans at Dallas Seminary this year, I thought I would start with a review of Wright’s treatment of ‘the righteousness of God’ in Romans. But that paper ended up being nearly 10,000 words long—in itself too long even for a standard theological journal submission (they usually limit manuscripts to 8500 words). I dreaded how long a piece on all that Wright had to say in his book would be! So, I had to leave it at this one exceedingly important and programmatic phrase.

I have posted the review article at bible.org; the exact link is here. It was too long for a blog post at Parchment & Pen, but the articles at bible.org don’t have the format for comments there. So, I’m doing a rather unconventional thing of asking you to read the article there and comment on it here.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    72 replies to "Is Wright Right about the Righteousness of God?"

    • Joe

      Well sure: claiming that we already are “full”y justified and good, does 1) neglect the fact that only God himself knows whether we were really good; and only God will “judge” us, as good or bad, in the end. While 2) supposing we have it all already, seems to commit the (bourgeoise) sin of Vanity and Pride too.

      Are we on the same page here?

    • Joe

      By the way: the Bible itself never mentions being saved by faith “alone” … except in James. Where James condemns it. James telling us several times, that “faith without works is dead.”

      And even if we could be saved by faith …. how do you know the idea of God you have faith in, is the right idea of him? You can have all the faith in the world, in a false Christ … and yet all “your faith is in vain.”

      As is faith without “love,” said Paul himself.

      So that there are many things you need, besides faith, to be righteous. Says God. And even if faith alone was enough, still, only God himself will judge whether your faith was in the right idea of God, or not.

      That being the case, we should all be humble, in “fear and trembling,” till the End. And do good work.

    • Susan

      Joe and Bruce, the point of ‘faith without works is dead’ is that true faith will result in true good works. It is not saying that you must work to confirm your faith by your works. A good tree produces good fruit (said Jesus), a bad tree produces bad fruit. The fruit reveals the truth of what is in fact in the heart. A person who is a false-convert will have ‘faith’ that does not produce the fruit of true good works, nor the fruit of the Spirit. A person who is a true child of God will necessarily produce these as a result of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. God’s word speaks of ‘the testing of our faith’. Sometimes severe (or not so severe) trials squeeze a person to the point where the true condition of their heart (once tested) is found, more evidently and openly, to be in a state of rebellion (rather than submission to) God. Trials can bring to light that a person is not a true child of God.

      To live with the mindset which both of you have is to live under the burden of self-righteousness. Christ completely forgives all of our sin when we come to a point of true repentance and belief (by HIS standards). To say that we have to keep working to assure our good standing with God is to lessen the significance, and completeness of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. It is to become like the “foolish Galatians” As Paul said, Gal 3:1-3 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before you eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crusified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?”

      Don’t you see that this is exactly what you are doing? It is right to apply effort to our obedience—“to do good to all men, especially those who are of the houshold of the faith”. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t, but this will not boost our chances of being saved when we come before Jesus on the Great White Throne of Judgement. He did the work…..all of it, which is necessary to earn our salvation.

      God wants us to repent of our self righteousness. To repent of the notion that we gain favor in His sight because of our righteous deeds. Do you not recall that God has called our righteous deeds “filthy rags”?
      It’s entirely critical to come to a right understanding of this issue, or you will go through life with a self-righteous mentality without even recognizing it. There will always be times of doubt about your standing with God come judgement day….which will no-doubt be followed with going through your mental check-list of the good deeds you have done…and a tendency to assess yourself by comparing yourself with others (which should NEVER be the way we determine how we stand with God). 1 John 5:11-13

    • Susan

      …cont. 1 John 5:11-13 “The witness is this: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life, He who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life. I have written these things to you who believe in the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.”

      If you have the Son of God, you have eternal life. That’s what God has said.

      Look at the parable of the sower and the seeds. Three of the seeds sprouted (responding to the gospel in some way), but it was only the fourth seed which grew and took root. It is only the fourth seed which is illustrative of true conversion. Notice that the condition of the soil, not the effort of the plant, is what must be right. God conditions the soil. It is only when God’s Spirit brings a person to a point of true understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, AND brings conviction…a sorrowful awareness of ones own sinfulness, that one can be truly saved.

      BTW, Dan Wallace is trying to meet a book deadline this month, which is why he has been absent from this discussion. I have read an article he wrote recently on the perseverance of the saints (which I recently reread)…..so I know that he is in agreement with what I have said here. I would post the article, but it is not-yet-published.

    • Joe

      Our position is self-righteous? There is nothing so self-righteous as a person who says he/she is already fully saved by faith, and does not need to do anything else, ever.

      “Be not righteous overmuch.”

      “By their fruits you shall know them.”

    • cheryl u


      There is a passage in Ephesians 4 that says: “But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Ephesians 4:20-24

      It then goes on to list a bunch of things that are to be “put off” and tells us how to live instead.

      So, it seems to me we are to be very actively involved in living the life He has for us, an active “putting off” and putting on other things instead. It isn’t all just an automatic thing that happens because we have the Spirit within us. It is rather a cooperating with the Spirit in an active way. Remember what Philippains 2:12-13 says? “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

      Then in chapter 5 it says: “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.” Ephesians 5:5-7

      This is a very stern, it seems to me, warning spoken to Christians to be careful that they are not deceived and take the things that God forbids lightly. He tells us not to be partakers in these things because of the dire consequences that comes to those that do them.

      (There are very similar passages in Colossians and I Corinthians.)

      I believe these are warnings and passages we all need to heed. They seem to me to all too often be swept under the rug and ignored as we focus on the types of verses that you spoke of above.

      And if we are doing these things as we are told to in these verses, it isn’t our own righteousness, which is indeed “as filthy rags”, but it is God’s righteousness–the new man that we have put on, with the “spirit’s of our mind renewed”, as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” because, after all, it is He that “works in us to will and to do!”

    • Darrell


      You said, “It is only the fourth seed which is illustrative of true conversion. Notice that the condition of the soil, not the effort of the plant, is what must be right. God conditions the soil.”

      That seems to me to be an overt case of begging the question.

      First nothing in the text indicates that God conditions the soil. In Luke’s version (8:18) it appears that the person receiving the word prepares the soil of his heart.

      Second, nothing indicates that the plants that grow in the cases of the receptive seeds in any way differ one from the other. The word was identically productive in three of the four cases: a plant comes up from the planted word. If the one case is conversion, how are the other two not? The lack of ongoing fruitfulness comes from offense regarding persecution, and the gradual choking out of the word’s life through temptation.

      That these two categories are spurious conversions is definitely not apparent from anything in the text.

    • Susan

      Joe and Cheryl,
      ….by their fruits you shall know them indeed. That which cannot produce fruit, does not produce fruit. Matt 7:17-20 Jesus said, “every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.”

      And, in response to your comment, I DO believe that I am fully saved by faith in the Son of God (1John 5:11-13). My good works do not in any way contribute to my salvation. Self righteous means that one thinks that their good deeds are necessary for meriting salvation. Now, you have implied that I believe that I don’t think I need to do anything else ever. In one sense you are correct…..in that I know that my post-coversion works don’t save me any more than my pre-conversion works. However, as I stated in my last post: ” It is right to apply effort to our obedience—”to do good to all men, especially those who are of the houshold of the faith”. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t, but this will not boost our chances of being saved when we come before Jesus on the Great White Throne of Judgement.

      We are commanded in scripture to do many things….to put off the old and put on the new etc. Yes, we should obey. Yes we should apply effort to serve God and others, and yes we need to heed God’s warnings not to partake in the deeds of the ‘children of disobedience’……..but that isn’t what saves us!

      I don’t at all sweep the directives of scripture…of God Himself, under the rug. It’s a bit presumptuous to draw that conclusion. I never said anything akin to ‘we don’t need to concern ourselves with obedience to God’s word. If you knew me, you would know that I don’t do that.

      The scriptures you have quoted are not at all in conflict with anything I have said. BTW, why do you quote King James? That was a good translation in the 1600’s, but it’s not the most readable version now….

    • Susan

      Darrell, only one plant grew and produced fruit….indicative of life. I’m too tired to write more, but I will tell you that Dan Wallace’s view is that only the last seed/soil represents a true convert. He’s the scholar 🙂

    • cheryl u

      Susan, I’m tired and it is late too! Just wanted to let you know the only reason I quoted KJV was the program I was using at the time had a glitch and would only print it in KJV.

    • cheryl u


      I am not saying that I think you are deliberately sweeping God’s commands under the rug. What I am saying however, is that I still don’t you are seeing my point.

      You said, “And, in response to your comment, I DO believe that I am fully saved by faith in the Son of God (1John 5:11-13). My good works do not in any way contribute to my salvation. Self righteous means that one thinks that their good deeds are necessary for meriting salvation. Now, you have implied that I believe that I don’t think I need to do anything else ever. In one sense you are correct…..in that I know that my post-coversion works don’t save me any more than my pre-conversion works.”

      Now, depending on your definition of “good works”, I may or may not agree with you. If you are saying things we do on our own to merit salvation, I agree with you 100%.

      However, there are quite a few other Scirptures that are, if you will, the flip side of the ones you have quoted. I will just mention a few here.

      Romans 8:3-4 “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God {did:} sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and {as an offering} for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

      See, there is still a “requirement of the law” that needs to be fulfilled. Only when we are Christians, the SPIRIT does it through us, and we don’t do it ourselves.

      Then Romans 8:12-13 says, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

      So, accoding to those verses, if we are “putting off the old man”–the flesh, and “putting on the new man”–and walking by the Spirit, we will live.

      Remember all of the times Paul says that “those that do these things, (or the unrightesous), shall not inherit the Kingdom of God”? He said that speaking of works of the flesh. (I Corinthians 6:9, Galatians 5:21, and Ephesians 5:5)

      While these passages make it clear that we are new in Christ, and that we have crucified the flesh in Him, they are all telling us to be sure to “walk in the Spirit” so that is a reality in our day to day life. They also make it clear that we can still have those sins within us and we are not to allow ourselves to fall into them. And then comes the warnings, “they that do them shall not inherit the Kingdom of God”, or as in Romans 8, “if you live according to the flesh we, you must die.” Several times these passages make it clear too, that we are not to be deceived about this. Why would Paul keep telling us that if it were not a possibility?

      Continued in next comment…

    • cheryl u

      Continued from comment # 61:

      Of course, this doesn’t mean that if we sin we are immediately doomed to hell! There is always repentance and forgiveness. But as far as I can tell, they do mean that the process that we call sanctification is very much tied up in the whole salvation experience. It is not optional! It is just that the Spirit in us will fulfill the requirements of the law as it says in Romans 8. But we are to be sure to be walking in the Spirit and letting Him do that in us.

      “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” II Thessalonians 2:13

      Salvation through SANCTIFICATION by the Spirit and FAITH in the truth!!

    • Marc

      Susan, your position and that of Piper, that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer unto salvation is the view (among others) which Wright critiques in his latest book, Justification. Aside from the fact that the explicit concept is absent in Paul (Packer says the “meaning” is there) and the illogic of it I was wondering how you reconcile this idea with Paul’s concept of personal judgement (Rom 2; 2 Cor 5:10) and especially Jesus judgement, in Mt 25, clearly on the basis of a person’s works apart from their beliefs held? What do you think Jesus meant when he promised mercy to the merciful and forgiveness to those who forgive? Was he just playing around and we needed Paul to give us real soteriology? Seriously, when you are one day judged are you going to be surprised when God says, “Let’s look at what you’ve done Susan.”? Would you really stand up to God and say, but that’s not how I was taught, gimme Jesus’ credit!

    • Susan

      Cheryl, as I pointed out to another commenter in my post # 43, it’s important to read Rom. 8:12-15 in the context of the entirety of that chapter. A contrast is made between those who live in the flesh (non-converts) vs. those who live by the Spirit (true believers). Paul points out that those who live in the flesh can’t please God….it is impossible.
      (Rom. 8:8-9) Those who are in the flesh can not please God.”

      Of those who live in the Spirit it says, “You however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. (Rom 8:10) But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness. Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Christ from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through His Spirit who lives in you.

      Cheryl, this sermon by Mark Driscoll is entitled: Why I Hate Religion .
      It speaks very directly to this discussion. It is very clear and well-delivered. Dan Wallace has told me that he finds Driscoll’s theology to be right-on. I very much hope that you will listen to it.

      Thanks for the discussion, Susan.

      You see, Cheryl, there are only two categories given. Those who are of the flesh, or those who are the adopted sons and daughters of God, who are of the Spirit. You can’t be an adopted child of God….and then become un-adopted! Please do read all of Romans 8 carefully. It’s very encouraging to me, and should be to all true believers.

      You said: “See, there is still a “requirement of the law” that needs to be fulfilled. Only when we are Christians, the SPIRIT does it through us, and we don’t do it ourselves.”

      That requirement was fulfilled by Jesus who’s righteousness is imputed to us, Cheryl. In order to for us to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law we would have to be sinless. We aren’t. We’ve been condemned to face the wrath of God for our sin. It is ONLY because of what Jesus did on the cross that we have a way of escape from the future wrath of God. “The wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life.” When someone gives you a gift, what do you need to do to obtain it? You simply need to receive it…..you don’t have to do good things after you receive it in order to make sure it isn’t taken back from you. “Gift” is God’s word here.

      Eph 2:8-9 For by grace are you saved, through faith, and this is NOT from yourselves, it is the GIFT of God; it IS NOT FROM WORKS, so that no one can boast.” Excuse the caps, but I think that it is incredibly important that one understand this. If someone thinks that their salvation is in jeopardy if they sin…and don’t do enough good deeds, then I will say that such a person is not trusting Christ alone for their salvation. Why did Christ have to die?…..would then be a…

    • Susan

      …. a legitimate question to ask.

      Cheryl, that’s weird. My post ended up jumbled and out of order. My comment about Mark Driscoll’s sermon was my LAST comment, but the paragraphs rearranged when I submitted the comment.

      Here’s the link to Driscoll’s powerful sermon (it’s not real long): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXKT8IPdvzA

    • Susan

      On the other hand, Marc: Jesus says in Matt. 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven–only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds? Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me you lawbreakers!”

      On judgement day, the pretenders and false converts…..who may have served long and hard in the church, will be exposed. What matters is having a right relationship with Him. This comes about when we are broken over our sin under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and we receive the forgiveness which comes through Christ alone. If you think that you have a plea before God BECAUSE you have dutifully served Him, you are in for a big surprise. Only God knows the true condition of a person’s heart. He gives grace to the humble (like the tax collector who beat his breast before God), but He is apposed to the proud (those, like the Pharisee, who think that their good deeds and right-living, give them a place before God).

      And notice that phrase (Matt 7:21 “…only the one who does the will of my Father”. Recall that Romans 8 makes it clear that only those who are in the Spirit are at all capable of doing the will of the Father.

    • Susan

      Cheryl, you are correct that salvation isn’t ‘optional’ (which makes it sound like WE make it happen)….it is promised by God! Sanctification is worked in us by God’s Holy Spirit. It is not something which we work in ourselves.

    • cheryl u


      I am just heading out the door. I was going to ask about the link to that sermon but I see it came through now.

      You said, “Cheryl, you are correct that salvation isn’t ‘optional’ (which makes it sound like WE make it happen)….it is promised by God! Sanctification is worked in us by God’s Holy Spirit. It is not something which we work in ourselves.”

      I assume you meant sanctification isn’t optional–which is what I said? Yes God works it in us, but we are also told to “Work it out with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12

      The phrase “work out” means, according to Thayer’s:

      “1) to perform, accomplish, achieve

      2) to work out i.e. to do that from which something results

      a) of things: bring about, result in

      3) to fashion i.e. render one fit for a thing”

      The same verse goes on to say it is God who works it in us.

      But this aspect of “working out” is what I have been talking about.

      Have to go for now…

    • Michael

      You know I was chatting with some friends from my Bible study recently and the question came up that if we could remove one book from the Bible what book would it be. I said Romans because it seems nearly 75% of the arguments that arise among Evangelical’s stem from something that was said in Romans and the various ways different groups interpret it.

    • Darrell

      As this conversation has taken the direction of an Arminian versus Calvinist discussion. I’d like to suggest that Robert Shank’s Life in the Son would be a valuable contribution.

    • cheryl u


      A few more thoughts.

      First of all, I want to reiterate again, that I do not believe in any way that it is our own works that save us. It is ONLY through Jesus and what He did and being in relationship with Him that we are saved. We will not stand before Him on judgment day and be welcomed because we have done anything on our own to merit salvation. However, what He did makes the way for us to not only receive forgiveness but life and sanctification through His Spirit. Yes, it is He who works the sanctification in us–but we are told to work it out.

      You say that in Romans 8 it speaks of two categories of people–the saved and the unsaved. Those that walk in the flesh and those that walk in the Spirit. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that if you are saved, you will be walking in the Spirit. I still believe there is a distinction there however.

      Look back in Romans 6:11 and the next few verses. I think that may help show what I mean. There we are told to reckon ourselves dead to sin and to not let sin reign in us. It sounds to me like even here in Romans there is a choice to be made as to how much we yield to the Spirit. And again, Paul warns that if we are servants of sin, the end is death.

      And in Galatians 5 there is a real distinction made between living in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. (See verse 14 to the end of the chapter, noting particularly verses 16 where we are commanded to walk in the Spirit and verse 25 which says that if we live in the Spirit, we should also walk in the Spirit). The implication being, it would seem to me, that just because we are a Christian, we may not necessarily be walking in the Spirit. In which case we would be living in the flesh, which Paul says leads to death! I think the Ephesians, Colossians, and I Corinthians verses I spoke of earlier bear this out.

      You know, I honestly can’t say that I understand how all of these concepts, (the ones you spoke of and the ones I have brought up), work together. But I simply can not deny that I see these things in Scripture and the warnings that go with it.

      By the say, I haven’t had time to listen to that link yet and may not for awhile.

    • Daniel B. Wallace

      Friends, I’ve been stuck in central California for four days, waiting for a flight home to Dallas. I’ve been able to read the comments a bit, but not thoroughly. I think it’s time to close this discussion since it has moved far away from the original topic. This happens almost all the time unfortunately.

      Before we close it, however, I would like to offer a perspective on the nature of the comments. All too often commenters do not deal with the details of an argument, but rather speak in generalities about what the Bible teaches. Some have simply ignored the critique I made of Wright on justification and have assumed that works are an essential part of salvation–even if they are sponsored by the Spirit of God. But this is precisely what I was critiquing Wright for: a sloppy, not-well-thought-out view of justification that somehow requires us to do more than put our trust in Jesus to be saved. The key texts here, as I have argued, are Rom 3.21-26 and 4.5. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to get ourselves saved nor anything that we can do to keep ourselves saved. It is all of God’s grace. We receive the gift of salvation by faith. Once you add anything to the finished work of Christ on the cross you effectively blaspheme the Lord because you’re saying that he didn’t do enough and that our feeble, sin-tainted efforts can add to his accomplishment. Paul underscores the logic of grace in Rom 4 to such an extent that one cannot miss his emphasis on works as adding zip, nada, nothing to our salvation.

      Where works come in is especially related to the ministry of the Spirit. A true believer is one who has repented of his/her sinfulness and has begun to trust the Lord—not only for salvation but for all of life. And the Holy Spirit has invaded this person’s life, prompting him/her to live for God. Phil 2.12-13 was mentioned by one commenter, as though this demonstrated that works were a necessary addition to our salvation. But only v. 12 was quoted! Verse 13 puts the divine perspective on v. 12: “For the one producing both the desire and the labor, for his good pleasure, is God.” Paul says that we are to work out our own salvation, but God is the one who ‘works it in,’ if you will. It’s there, and is our present possession, but the aspect of salvation known as sanctification is an ongoing process in which we use effort, under the power of the Spirit, to please God, knowing that our eternal home is with him.

      At issue here is the role that assurance of salvation might have in the process of sanctification. As Susan has well noted, God never unadopts his children! Yes, there will be a judgment to face, but the judgment that believers will face is not one in which their salvation is in jeopardy. Let me close with this question: For those of you who are married, do you love your spouse more if you think that at the slightest infraction he or she might abandon you? Or do you love your spouse more if you rest secure in…

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